Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty
Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson
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Brilliant and engagingly written, Why Nations Fail answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine?
Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are?
Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence?
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it). Korea, to take just one of their fascinating examples, is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest. The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities. The economic success thus spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. Sadly, the people of the north have endured decades of famine, political repression, and very different economic institutions—with no end in sight. The differences between the Koreas is due to the politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories.
Based on fifteen years of original research Acemoglu and Robinson marshall extraordinary historical evidence from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa to build a new theory of political economy with great relevance for the big questions of today, including:
- China has built an authoritarian growth machine. Will it continue to grow at such high speed and overwhelm the West?
- Are America’s best days behind it? Are we moving from a virtuous circle in which efforts by elites to aggrandize power are resisted to a vicious one that enriches and empowers a small minority?
- What is the most effective way to help move billions of people from the rut of poverty to prosperity? More
philanthropy from the wealthy nations of the West? Or learning the hard-won lessons of Acemoglu and Robinson’s breakthrough ideas on the interplay between inclusive political and economic institutions?
Why Nations Fail will change the way you look at—and understand—the world.
Colombian state, which the paramilitaries had taken over and were allowed to keep. In Colombia many aspects of economic and political institutions have become more inclusive over time. But certain major extractive elements remain. Lawlessness and insecure property rights are endemic in large swaths of the country, and this is a consequence of the lack of control by the national state in many parts of the country, and the particular form of lack of state centralization in Colombia. But this state
for their labor, but only supposedly. In 2006, when the world price of cotton was around $1.40 (U.S.) per kilo, the children were paid about $0.03 for their daily quota of twenty to sixty kilos. Probably 75 percent of the cotton harvest is now picked by children. In the spring, school is closed for compulsory hoeing, weeding, and transplanting. How did it all come to this? Uzbekistan, like the other Soviet Socialist Republics, was supposed to gain its independence after the collapse of the
productivity, the status quo persisted because of the desire for political control and taxation. Ottoman colonization was followed by European colonization after 1918. When European control ended, the same dynamics we have seen in sub-Saharan Africa took hold, with extractive colonial institutions taken over by independent elites. In some cases, such as the monarchy of Jordan, these elites were direct creations of the colonial powers, but this, too, happened frequently in Africa, as we will see.
produced was extracted that there was not enough to eat. People began to starve to death. In the end, probably six million people died of famine, while hundreds of thousands of others were murdered or banished to Siberia during the forcible collectivization. Neither the newly created industry nor the collectivized farms were economically efficient in the sense that they made the best use of what resources the Soviet Union possessed. It sounds like a recipe for economic disaster and stagnation,
one of the dominant figures of the Industrial Revolution, patented his “water frame,” which was a huge improvement over Lewis’s machine. He formed a partnership with Jedediah Strutt and Samuel Need, who were hosiery manufacturers. In 1771 they built one of the world’s first factories, at Cromford. The new machines were powered by water, but Arkwright later made the crucial transition to steam power. By 1774 his firm employed six hundred workers, and he expanded aggressively, eventually setting up